A pleasant stay at the 'Super 8'

By Loy Fankbonner
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 3, 1996

By Loy Fankbonner

"Super 8 Motel"

Film by A.M. Fejes

Music by A.M. Fejes, Tripp Wallin, Jason Willis

Swiss Filmmaker and musician A.M. Fejes arrived in Tucson just two months ago, as a result of placing his fate in the hands of a chancy travel agent. He has since found himself nestled in a cozy community of local musicians who share his interest in avant-garde jazz, noise and the German tradition of "Krautrock."

One of the first images that captured Fejes' imagination upon arriving in the Southwest was the fluorescent Super 8 Motel sign on the west side of the Interstate. This was the genesis of his brilliant multimedia project titled simply "Super 8 Motel." Fejes has assembled a trio to provide a live soundtrack for the film, made up of Fejes and the ever prolific Tripp Wallin on twin bass guitars, and Jason Willis (best known for his solo stoner-rock endeavor Super 78) on lap steel. Drummer and four-track luminary Jay Verkamp acts as projectionist. Together, they have publicly performed the work twice, most recently at Cafe Luna Loca downtown.

The film consists simply of Fejes' color, instant photo of the motel fixture developing in the Polaroid's patented, unnervingly patient manner, fading in from complete white into sharp focus in the course of three minutes.

Fejes is making an obvious visual pun here the picture was filmed in Super 8 format, an inexpensive home movie medium widely used in the '60s and '70s. This exemplifies the wonderfully absurd sense of humor that runs throughout the entire work. The opening credits feature a still of the fully developed photograph, which nicely destroys any facile element of surprise or expectation the viewer may have experienced in waiting for the picture to appear, and underscores the banal nature of the image. But Fejes doesn't seem to be making a statement on boredom or consumerism here. He's joyously elevating the second rate corporate logo to near majestic proportions. The sign, projected just slightly smaller than actual size, looms over the viewer and assumes a monolithic presence. It's especially eerie within the confines of Cafe Luna Loca, a small homey venue that accommodates fewer than 100 people. One's first reaction is to ask, "What the hell is that thing doing in here?"

The musicians faced the projection screen, watching the film intently as they performed an instrumental soundtrack built on Fejes and Wallin's minor chord bass drone, which gradually increases in volume and intensity as the images come into focus. Perhaps inspired by Joe Meek's "I Hear a New World," or sci-fi incidental music, the otherworldly whine of Willis' lap steel is positively chilling and creates an aura of mystery and uneasiness. Hypnotic and mantra-like, the trio bestows an unsettling sense of importance on the object of the film. At times it's hard to tell whether the group is playing for the object, or merely serving as a thoroughfare and interpreter for sounds the object itself is producing.

Jay Verkamp's unsteady production, accidental or not, forges a sense of interaction between the film and the musicians. The occasional graininess of the film, the erratic shifts in focus, and the increased speed as the film comes chaotically to a close, are all very fitting. They remind the viewer that one is, in fact, witnessing a human performance, and not merely a weird, random incident.

The absurdity of staring in awe at this damn sign for five minutes is terrific, and Fejes' success in compelling a roomful of people to do so is a remarkable artistic accomplishment in itself. Performance like this one are a Tucson rarity. "Super 8 Motel" manages to be thought-provoking, funny, abstract, and improvisational, but delivers these things without an iota of pretension or heavy handedness. Put aside any art fears you might be entertaining, and soak this one in the next time it appears.